“Hey! That’s not your food! You’re too little!” That was me at pretty much every meal with two of my babies. Like, they would literally dive-bomb our plates like little starving buzzards! Bless their hearts, they wanted our food soooo badly and didn’t understand that they were too little to eat it at just 2-3 months old. When it was finally time to introduce food we tried baby food with one of them and he wanted nothing to do with it. He only wanted grown-up food. I found myself quickly thrown into the world of baby-led feeding. What I learned laid the foundation for my other child who wanted our food even more than her brother. If you’re about to embark on your baby’s solid food journey, let me introduce you to baby-led feeding.
Why Try Baby-Led Feeding
Commercially prepared baby foods have been available for over 100 years. They are the preferred form of food for many families, but there are many good reasons to go with other options like baby-led feeding.
Have you seen the cost of baby food lately? Ouch! While the cost of all food is going up in our time, buying baby food is definitely more expensive than regular food. Plus you aren’t having to buy multiple things to feed your family. The sweet potatoes that you bake up for yourself can feed your baby just as well.
Baby food is rather one-note when it comes to textures. It’s puréed, or puréed with some chunks, or maybe mashed when you get to the ‘advanced stages’ of baby food. With baby-led feeding you can easily introduce a variety of textures (and taste combinations) to your baby. Babies get to practice managing all those wonderful textures they’ll encounter later in life right from the start!
Baby-led feeding gives you control over the ingredients your baby is getting in. You determine the sodium levels, the spices, the main ingredients, and the cooking method. This is even more important if you have food allergies in your family. As a food-allergy mom I’ve seen many families struggle to find baby foods that don’t have potential cross-contact with allergens they need to avoid. Baby-led feeding solves that problem!
When to Start
I remember when our first child was a baby, I was so excited to introduce foods to her. I wanted to let her try all the exciting things I loved to eat, but I also wanted to do things right. That meant figuring out when the best time was to introduce solid foods. There are a few key things to know about when to start your baby on solid foods.
Just because my baby was throwing her at my plate at 2 months old, doesn’t mean it was a good idea to let her start eating it. Babies should be roughly 6 months old. It doesn’t have to be an exact thing, where you wait till the very day of your child’s half-birthday. If they are showing signs of readiness and eagerness slightly before that age, it is usually safe to start. If your child has special medical needs like a cleft lip/palate, allergic disorders, or problems with low muscle tone, it’s best to talk things over with his/her doctor first.
Signs of Readiness
Readiness for solids is not just about age. There are other factors that contribute as well. There are several signs of readiness to look for in your baby before starting on solids.
- Sitting up, mostly independently (a little help/support is okay)
- Holding her head/neck up and steady, independently
- Grasping objects in his fist
- Bringing objects to her mouth
- Interested in food (closely watching you eat, reaching for your food, etc.)
Low Stress Times
Don’t start introducing solids (whether it’s baby-led feeding or purées) during a high stress time. A big holiday meal may not be the best time to try things out for the first time. If your life is entering a crazy season for whatever reason, put things off for a few weeks. Start your introductions during times of the day when you aren’t super busy. This way you are relaxed as possible, helping your baby to feel relaxed and ready to explore.
How to Start Solids
Now that you know when your baby is ready to start solids, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road, so to speak. When it comes to baby-led feeding it’s actually a lot easier than you’d think! There are just a few key things to keep in mind as you get going.
Keep Things Relaxed
Now is the time to find your mellow space. You want to keep your baby’s introduction to solid foods nice and relaxed. Put some food on your little one’s high chair tray. Let him explore the food without any pressure to eat. Let him make a mess if he wants to, smash the food, put things in his mouth and spit them back out, etc. He’s just starting to explore at this point.
Let Baby Lead the Way
This is called baby-led feeding for a reason. Now is the time to let your baby take the lead! Resist the temptation to spoon feed her. You might have friends, neighbors, and relatives comment that your baby won’t be healthy if you don’t make sure she eats enough by spoon feeding, but that really hasn’t been found to be true. In these early days of introducing food to your baby she won’t need much nutrition from it. She’s exploring tastes and textures, and developing skills that will last her a lifetime. Whatever you’re eating, make her a baby-friendly version (cut into small sticks and chunks, with limited salt, etc.).
There are a few specific foods that you need to make sure you are the safe age range for.
- Honey: Children under 1 year old should never be given honey. There is a risk of botulism from honey that can pose a serious risk to babies.
- Peanut Butter: Despite outdated advice that children need to wait till they are 1 to have peanut butter to prevent allergies, it’s actually safe right from the start. The key thing to know is that thicker amounts of peanut butter can be a choking hazard for babies, so be careful and spread it thinly on whatever you are using.
- Grapes: You’ll want to wait till your baby has developed the pincer grasp (a fine motor skill) and cut the grapes into quarters so they are no longer round or large. Uncut grapes present a large choking hazard for babies (and for young children).
- Nuts: Again, you don’t need to avoid nuts to reduce the risk of allergies. Research shows that isn’t accurate. Nuts are a major choking hazard for babies, though. It’s best to avoid nuts themselves until your little one isn’t quite so little. Ground nuts and nut flours are perfectly safe (barring any allergies), so baking with something like almond flour is a great way to get in the taste and nutrition without the choking risk from nuts.
Baby-led Feeding Gives Babies a Great Start
Transitioning your baby onto solid foods can feel both exciting and overwhelming. There are so many choices and there is no singular choice that is right for every baby. Baby-led feeding can be a fabulous choice that gives your baby control over eating while introducing him to a wealth of tastes and textures! When your baby is ready to start solids, give it a try and enjoy watching your baby explore a whole new world of fun!